Press Release: Need for Syringe Access Through Pharmacies
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 23, 2016
CONTACT: Tessie Castillo
Study Highlights NC Injection Drug Use Problem and Need for Syringe Access Through Pharmacies
In March 2016 the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy released results from a survey of NC pharmacies highlighting the role of pharmacies in addressing the state’s injection drug problem. North Carolina is currently facing a crisis related to increases in injection drug use and the consequent spread of infectious diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV. From 2010 to 2014 deaths involving heroin overdose skyrocketed 565% across the state and acute hepatitis C cases nearly tripled over the same period. Hepatitis C spreads primarily when people who inject drugs share their syringes with infected people. In North Carolina, restricted access to syringes leads many injection drug users to share their syringes with others or to seek syringes from unsterile environments, such as trashcans or on the ground.
Jeannie Ong, an NC pharmacy resident and the survey’s primary author, says, “What we were trying to do here is raise awareness about how community pharmacists can impact the prevention of HIV and hepatitis C virus transmission in our state. We wanted to empower and encourage pharmacists to be a part of the solution because we are the most accessible healthcare providers.”
The survey was sent to an electronic list of 5,598 pharmacists registered with the NC Board of Pharmacy and consisted of 15 questions regarding the pharmacist’s tendency or willingness to sell syringes without a prescription. North Carolina law does not require a prescription to purchase syringes. The decision of whether to sell a syringe without a prescription is currently left to the pharmacists’ discretion.
Sixty-two percent of the 904 pharmacists who completed the full survey stated that they SOMETIMES sell syringes, citing factors such as a customer’s sobriety, federal and state regulations, and concerns that the syringes would be used for illicit drugs as influencing their decision. Thirty percent reported that they ALWAYS sell syringes due primarily to concern for public health and HIV/hepatitis C prevention, while eight percent said they NEVER sell syringes without a prescription, citing personal beliefs about drug use.
According to several national studies, selling syringes without a prescription does not encourage or increase illicit drug use. However, it does help decrease risky behaviors such as sharing syringes with someone who might be infected with HIV or hepatitis C.
The American Pharmacists’ Association, or APhA, supports the sale of syringes without a prescription as a tool to reduce HIV and hepatitis C transmission. Their statement reads: “APhA encourages state legislatures and boards of pharmacy to revise laws and regulations to permit the unrestricted sale or distribution of sterile syringes and needles by or with the knowledge of a pharmacist in an effort to decrease the transmission of blood-borne diseases.”
NC Board of Pharmacy recently posted an FAQ on their website drafted by the NC Harm Reduction Coalition to educate pharmacists on current law, liability and public health concerns regarding the sale of syringes without a prescription.
In addition to questions on syringe sales, the survey also asked pharmacists whether they would support the legalization of needle exchange programs (also called syringe exchange programs), where people could receive free syringes and also return used syringes for disposal. Eighty-nine percent of pharmacists surveyed said they would support the legalization of syringe exchange programs. Proponents of syringe exchange point to studies showing that these programs can substantially decrease the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, lower needle-stick injury to law enforcement, and help connect people who use drugs to addiction treatment services. Syringe exchange programs will be a topic of debate during the upcoming North Carolina legislative session in April.
Breakdown of study can be found at: APhA-Poster-Ong-FINAL.pdf